Almighty God, if thy blessing be given unto us, we shall know no more any pain of want or any weakness of fear. Send thine angels to us to tell us what thou wouldst have us do. With the music of their message in our ears we shall run, if with fear yet with great joy, to bring thy disciples word. The word is thine, every letter and tone of it; it is not ours else it would perish in the wind which first hears it, but it is thy word, full of the music of thine own heart, tender with the tremulousness of thine own love, and because it is thy word and none other, it shall find acceptance in the earth, and make the whole world pure and glad. Herein is our trust, here do we find the light of our hope, into this promise as into a rock do we run in the time of darkness and desperate sorrow. When thou dost try our faith, we would that our faith might be strongest; when the cloud is darkest, we would break it up by the urgency and penetration of our vehement cry; when the night is longest we would charm away all its darkness by continual songs of hope. This is the victory which overcometh the world, even our faith. Lord, increase our faith. Faith is the gift of God: we ask thee for it now, with loving and expectant heart.
We come to thee by the way appointed, broad as thine own love, and bright as thine own heaven—Jesus Christ, the Living Priest, by whom we have received the atonement, and because of his sacrifice and intercession we shall have all things and shall truly abound in all heavenly bestowals, and in us shall there be a daily inspiration that shall renew our strength and our hope.
We have come to bless thee with many words and many Song of Solomon, to recall all thy tender mercies, though it be impossible so to do, to set our memory upon the miracle of complete recollection. Lord help us to do what we cannot do—but in the straining attempt to do it, we shall increase the strength which is mocked, and shall show thee how loving is our grateful heart.
Thou hast been with us all the day, so that we hardly know one day from another, so Sabbatic has been the quietness of the whole week, so tender the suggestion of every shining hour. Yet dost thou give us special mercies amid all that is even unusual. Thou raisest up mountains, the higher the one than the other, even in the land of great hills. Thou dost send upon us unexpected joy, and if now and again thou dost touch the foundation of our tower, it is that we may learn that if our foundation be not in God it is insecure. How terrible art thou, and yet how gentle: in wrath remember mercy, in the day of judgment look upon the bow of promise, and in all the fire of thine indignation against sin, remember how frail we are, a leaf that fadeth and a shadow that fleeth away. Enable us to work well during the hours of light, knowing that the night cometh wherein no man can work. Give us a right view of the work of thine house, may we feel that there is no slavery in thy bondage, that thy captivity is freedom, and that to be the Lord"s slaves is to be the Lord"s sons.
Thou knowest what our life Isaiah, shattered and torn, lying around us in many a ruin without shape or meaning; thou knowest how our vows have been broken, and our prayers have been plucked back from heaven without answer and without pressure; thou knowest us altogether—behold we have but a handful of days to live, do thou pity us, spare us, and work out in us all the way of thine own love. Enable us to live the larger life, to look upon the whole revelation of thy truth with the eyes of the heart, which take the whole sight, and which seeing perceive also.
Lift the burden where it is too heavy, dry the tears where they do not enlarge the vision but blind it, open for us ways upon roads that are at present inaccessible, give us a humble, heartfelt trust in our Father"s goodness, and may we stand upon that as upon a rock that cannot be shaken. Go after the prodigal whom our prayers fail to overtake, bring back the wanderer who has left all the common roads of life and is groping in thickets and wildernesses which we cannot penetrate. Nurse our sick ones, lift them awhile from the hot bed and give them rest within thine arms—lay them down again with thine own gentleness, and give them sleep.
Baptize all our little ones with dew from heaven: preserve their lives that they may become good and great and wise and honourable. Watch our houses that they be not broken in upon with violence: may we find a sanctuary on the hearthstone and the beginning of heaven in the innermost joys of the house.
We say this in the dear, great, tender Name, we baptize our prayer with the blood of the cross—without that baptism what is our prayer but a speech of the lips? Hear us at the cross, and as thou hearest come to us with assurance of perfect pardon and release from every sin and every accusation, and may we find a Sabbath within the Sabbath, the peace of nature enclosed within the larger peace of God"s own calm. Amen.
1. In the end of the Sabbath (late on the Sabbath), as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre.
2. And, behold, there was a great earthquake; for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.
3. His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow:
4. And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men.
5. And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified.
6. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord Jay.
7. And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you.
8. And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word.
9. And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. (Rejoice!) And they came and held (clasped) him by the feet, and worshipped him.
10. Then said Jesus unto them, Be not afraid: go tell my brethren (by spiritual relationship) that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me.
Jesus Christ has for the time being withdrawn from the page we are perusing, yet we can think of nothing but himself, even during his temporary absence. After the high converse we have had, we cannot easily fall into common talk. The sleeping city is a mean sight to the man who has been out early and come down from the mountain whence he saw the sun rise. To him the sleeper seems to be almost a criminal: the sleeper is a man who has lost an opportunity and can never have that opportunity renewed under precisely the same conditions. So all the people that are now moving upon this page, up to a given verse, are commonplace, and would be intolerable but for the inquiry which strains and elevates their attention. We have no patience with them, but their inquiry makes a common standing ground for the human race. Let us join it, and ply heaven with the same eager and expectant question.
"In the end of the Sabbath." No! In the end of the Jewish Sabbath mayhap, but not in the end of the Sabbath. Literally in the end of the Sabbaths, as if they had all come to a point of termination. The Sabbath is only about to begin; there are no endings in God"s blessings—what we call the end is only the little rest which the blessing takes, to come up again in fuller bloom and tenderer colour and larger fruitfulness. Why have you this word "end" in your speech as Christians? There is an end to nothing but sin. "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death." No beauty is lost, no light, no speech of tenderness, no comfort of benediction, no inspiration of truth. The Sabbath can never end: man would take it back again if it were to be withdrawn. Forms may undergo changes, but the sabbatic spirit, the genius of rest, the elder brother of the days, the queen of the week, the shining star amid all the galaxy of time—the world would not willingly let die, the great religious heart of man can never allow to expire.
"As it began to dawn." Yes, that is just what it did. That is the very poetry of the occasion; the word written with apparent accident is the very expression of heaven. It began to dawn,—a new tender light shot up in the eastern sky, the orient trembled with a new presence, and glowed as with an infinite surprise. Christianity is always dawning: the Sabbath dawns over all the world; the Sabbath day is more than half over away down in the eastern lands—in the far-away western places, men are just beginning to rise now, and when we have concluded our service they will begin to sing
"This is the day the Lord hath made."
In the highest sense that can challenge the imagination and satisfy all the religious vision that is in us, Christianity is a continual dawning. When Christ comes the light comes; when Christ shines upon the life the darkness flees away; when the mind gets its first true conception of Christ, it is as if a shaft of light were shot from a great firmament of gloom, and as if all heaven shone. It began in the beginning. God created the heavens that dawn every day. Believe me, we live in beginnings. Give me some hint of endings, and strength goes, inspiration expires, and energy says, "There is no longer use for me to unfurl the banner, or blow the trumpet"s bray in the ear of the dead. Let me lie down and die too." There is a joyousness about the dawn and the beginning, the stirring tune, the hour of activity, when every energy leaps to the front, and every power says, "Baptize me for thy service, and may I be crowned as a blessing in the world"s commonwealth."
"As it began to dawn towards the first day." That also is just what it did! Now the primacy of time is covered with the higher primacy of grace. The "first day" it had always been since time was broken up into weeks and months and years. For many a long century it had been the first day of the week as it were by nativity—but now it is born again. It was sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption; it was sown a little glint of time, it rises big with eternal splendour. So may we be born again. You are first in intellect,—would that you were also first in goodness. And you are first in energy,—would that you were also first in prayer. You in the third place are first in wealth—would God every golden piece you have were made more golden still by being transformed into the gold of the sanctuary. Be not satisfied with natural or hereditary primacies; over those you have next to no control, it may be; but in this primacy of goodness, where may elevation cease? There is no terminal point on that heaven-ascending line.
The women came to the sepulchre, and Luke gives us some additional and illustrative particulars about them and their coming. According to Luke"s account, the women came, "bringing the spices which they had prepared." Notwithstanding they had been distinctly told that Jesus Christ would rise again on the third day, with that singular obstinacy which distinguishes the prejudices of the human mind, those blessed and affectionate women came with their spices to embalm their Lord! How can you account for the stubbornness of this view of death? The women had been told, and told by Jesus Christ himself, that on the third day he would rise again, and yet so treacherous is the memory, or so irreligious the heart, that Sight staggers Faith. The women saw him die; any recollection of a promise of "rising again" must have died in that death. So forgetting the prediction, or regarding it as a sentiment that had perished, or otherwise viewing it as a hope rather that as a fact which lay within the possibility of accomplishment, they came "bringing their spices which they had prepared."
The angel chided them. Said the angel to them, "Remember how he spake," and "they remembered his words," but the remembrance of his words would have been of no avail to them two hours before they saw the angel. If they had found the stone at the door of the sepulchre they would have remembered no such words—but Sight now helped Faith. The grave was empty, the stone rolled away, celestial visitants were the attendants of that gloomy place, and out of the depths of death they heard the voice of Resurrection;—"then they remembered his words." That remembrance is all but fatal. There is a time when our religious remembrances will rather be aggravations of our sin than mitigations of our mistakes. What was it to remember the words when the grave was empty, when the angels were filling it with morning light, when the stone, fastened, sealed, watched, was hurled back? It was nothing to remember then. That is the true faith which sees in the darkness as well as in the light, which goes to the grave bearing no spices but the spices of the immovable certainty of the resurrection and the life. You take your spices to your graves in the form of flowers and immortelles. It is pardonable, because the bones of the dead body are still hidden under the sod; it would be better if we could look straight up into the blue morning and breathe upward the spice of a concentrated life and a hopeful and all-conquering spirit.
Memory is to be touched in many ways. The old sermons will yet come upon us with great vividness, the mighty prayers that took us up to heaven"s gate so that we had a mind to alight there and never return, will come back with all but infinite energy and pressure upon the forgetful mind. And all the holy sabbaths that stand out upon the plain of time, like great mountains, will rush upon the recollection and become the chief of our joys, or the most oppressive and unanswerable of our accusations. Cultivate your memory; live in your religious recollections; if you let your yesterdays die, I wonder not that your to-morrows are amongst the darkest of your fears. Rather would I say, The Lord who delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, will deliver me from the hand of this uncircumcised Philistine. Remember the old battles and the old victories, the ancient fears, and the light that drove them away like shadows that could stand no longer in their presence, and say with heightening thankfulness,
For what purpose did the women come? According to Matthew they came to "see the sepulchre." An atheist might have done that, any man might have done it—but when Mary Magdalene and the other Mary do it, it seems as if the Heavens were closed up and the earth were a place that had no sky. We trust to the womanly heart to keep up our noblest hopes, we give ourselves over into the custody of that higher love and trust. When Mary Magdalene and the other Mary cease to pray, no man will have audacity enough to lift his face heavenward. The mother must save us, the housewife must make the house a sanctuary, the womanly heart must keep the altar-fire ablaze.
They came "to see the sepulchre," and they did see it: they saw more of it than they expected to see—they saw it turned inside out. So may all our expectancy be fulfilled! We came to the sanctuary to see—what? One another? an individual? an occasion? a service? a sepulchre? May we all be disappointed in this same happy way: may those who come to see the outside, the mechanical, and the transitory see the Lord"s own face, aglow with the light which fills all heaven with its splendour. Many have gone with aching hearts to see some religious sight, who have returned with great joy.
"And behold the angel of the Lord had rolled back the stone from the door." Mark describes this angel beautifully; Mark took more notice of certain particulars than any of the other evangelists; for the detail of the picture, always consult the evangelist Mark. According to Mark the angel was young man. Are there any old men in heaven? None. There are really no old men on earth, if we take the right view of the case. How old are you, trembling pilgrim? Do you say eighty? I can show you a tree three hundred years old. Do you say you have passed the fourscore years, and now there remains but a little more light, and you will soon be gone? You are an old Prayer of Manasseh, but you are a young being: the age is an accident, the existence is a fact. Do not give way to old age, it is only a mockery, it is not really old age: you are, if in Christ, always young. How else could the narrative read than that a young man came and did this? For God could have sent no old Prayer of Manasseh, having none in his great household. "Who are these, arrayed in white robes? and knowest thou whence they came?" "These are they who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne night and day, and serve God in his temple. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more, neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat." A youth that has no necessities, a youth on which time can write no wrinkle. We shall all be young some day, when we are clothed upon with our house from heaven! God is always sending young men down into the world to roll its stones away, to break up its rocks, to liberate its captives, and to give new dawning. Encourage the young, be large-minded and pitiful toward their mistakes, and see in the outputting of their energy the possibility of a noble and beneficent manhood.
He rolled away the stone. The stone was turned to new uses, for the angel "sat upon it." What thought the stone had occasioned by Joseph"s rolling it to the door of the sepulchre! It was kindly meant: no other construction could possibly be put upon Joseph"s act in that matter. It was sealed, it was watched, it was guarded—and yet it was rolled away. God sends a great wind upon the earth and throws down your towers and temples and towns and fortresses—an invisible wind—you cannot tell whence it comes or whither it goes, but it comes in great shocks and tries the foundations of your structures, breaks the ships of Tarshish, and troubles the sea as with great agony, and yet it is only a wind, without shape, without colour, without measure, almost without name, invisible—but when you see the ships hurried before it, and all their proud mast-work torn to rags and thrown into the foaming deep, and see great structures bulge out and fall flat down on the astonished earth, we feel how, in some aspects, we are truly little and weak.
Now the angel speaks, and I would hear every word he says. "Fear not ye, for I know that ye seek Jesus which was crucified. He is not here, for he is risen as he said: come, see the place where the Lord lay, and go quickly and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead, and behold he goeth before you into Galilee, there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you." You could not have put more matter into so short a compass. The angels speak concisely, they have specific messages to deliver, and with miserliness of language they crush into every syllable all the meaning which it will hold. The speech was sympathetic—"Fear not ye." The speech was heart-reading—"For I know that ye seek Jesus." The speech was explanatory-—"He is not here, he is risen, as he said." The speech was comforting—"Come, see the place where the Lord lay." The speech was inspiring—"Go ye." The angel was the first to preach Jesus and the Resurrection; all other preachers follow the "young man" who announced the Resurrection and sent the women to proclaim it.
What was the effect of the preaching? The women departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy, and did run to bring his disciples word. Haste, joy, energy, this is the missionary way, this is the true ministerial way, this is the great lecture upon the method of preaching. They departed quickly with fear and great joy, reverence and infinite rapture, and did run to bring his disciples word. We have fallen into a mean amble, we have slunk off and let every racer beat us; the gospel messenger lags somewhere in the rear, he is outrun by many a man. We want more quickness, more energy, more running power in the church. We are indifferent, we are respectable, we are reluctant, we are calculating, we are selfish. Rather would I belong to a Christianity that is censurable from a worldly point of view by reason of its vehemence and energy, than belong to some perversion of Christianity which regards its religion and its slumber as coequal and synonymous terms.
And as they went—it always so happens! A thing is never complete in itself; incident runs into incident, and the whole work is carried on with infinite skill to perfectness, to symmetry and life. "And as they went," Jesus met them! No man can go upon his errands without his company. Jesus Christ always meets his messengers or joins them or overtakes them: he is alway with his angels to the end of the world. And Jesus said, "Go." Some day we shall collect the incidents in which that word Go is used, and we shall see how wonderfully God"s Spirit always points in the direction of movement, aggression, energy. "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature." With such a "GO" ringing in our ears, with the resonance of a thunder-trumpet, who will sit down or stand still or forget his errand?
Almighty God, the darkness and the light are both alike unto thee: thou dost not slumber nor dost thou sleep, nor are thine eyelids weary and heavy. Thou dost cast the horseman into a deep sleep, and in the time of his slumber thou dost work out the great wonders of thy name, yea thou dost blind men with light and cause the day to be unto them as the night, and then thou dost send unto them revelations and messages from heaven. In our day there are twelve hours, but one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years in thy sight are but as one day. We cannot measure thy going, we are surprised and overtaken by sleep; thou dost punctuate our time with nights and hours of forgetfulness, so that we cannot piece together in one line all the days and hours that we breathe. Thou only art sleepless, thou alone dost not slumber, the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, and there is nothing hidden from the penetration of thy glance.
We own before thee our wickedness, and we ask thee not to look upon it with the eyes of judgment, but to look upon it with the eyes of pity and compassion. Thou seest all things, and yet thou dost remember that we are but dust, or as a wind that cometh for a little time and then passeth away. In wrath thou dost remember mercy, thine anger is kept back by thy love, thy righteousness does not strike us with death, because thy compassion pleads for the life which we have forfeited.
We come before thee with praises, with songs innumerable, ay, and sweet, full of the heart"s tenderest tones, because of thy continual lovingkindness and the mercy which is to usward everlasting. We find thy mercy always near at hand: sometimes we have to seek for thy judgments, but thy compassions shine in all the light of the day and in all the radiance of the night. We live because thou dost love us; we do not deserve our life, but thou dost spare it unto us as another opportunity to come to thee and be renewed by thy Spirit and by thy grace.
Surely thou dost delight in the man whom thou hast made, otherwise thou wouldst cut him down as with a sword and cast out his name from thy recollection—but thou dost spare him and watch him, with choice bread dost thou nourish him, and thou dost find for him water in the wilderness, and thou hast promised him growth and joy and rest in heaven. Thou hast indeed poured out thy heart"s love as wine to be drunk by the children of men. How great is thy love, how tender is thy pity, how incessant thy concern for the sons of men. We see this in the cross, we feel it in every beat of the heart of Christ, we behold it in all the revelation of the atoning ministry of the Son of God. In him we live, in him is our rest, in him is the spring of our joy, in him, through him, and by him alone do we live and move and have our being, and is our life lighted with a celestial hope.
We humbly pray thee to give us energy to meet all the demands that are made upon our life. Give us the responsive spirit which quickly, with all the joyous obedience of love, answers every appeal of thine. May we render thee no reluctant homage, but the homage of loving hearts, eager to pray, to adore, to sing, and to serve. Thus may our whole life be a sacrifice unto the Lord, heaven-ascending, sweet-smelling, acceptable unto God, that thou mayest yet have joy in the child of thine own creation.
Teach us how frail is our life upon the earth, how brief our time and how certain our dissolution. May we learn lessons from those that are round about us in pain, in weakness, in poverty and in distress, and whilst we are thankful that we are not reduced to the extremities of their condition, may we remember that in thy providence we too must lay down our life and die. May we therefore give our hearts unto Wisdom of Solomon, with all industry and patience; may we serve every hour of the appointed time, and may we know the joy of those servants who being always ready can hardly be surprised by their Lord"s coming.
Speak to those who are ill at ease, and cheer them with secret solaces from heaven. Save those that are helpless, and show them how in the extremity of weakness thou dost magnify thy gracious strength. Visit all who today need thee at home, because the house is dark, or empty, or filled with intolerable sadness. Be thou the Physician at home, and the preacher of thine own gospel to those who cannot come to thy church. Send a plentiful rain upon thine inheritance and refresh and bless every root which thou hast planted.
Care for our little ones, make their infancy the reason of thy tenderness, and because they are so little do thou bow thyself down to take them up, and in all such condescensions of love we shall see the mystery of our own redemption, and know how true it is that we are not saved by works, but by the grace of God. Amen.
11. Now when they were going, behold, some of the watch came into the city (related by Matthew only), and shewed unto the chief priests all the things that were done.
12. And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave large money unto the soldiers,
13. Saying, Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept.
14. And if this come to the governor"s ears, we will persuade him, and secure you.
15. So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.
16. Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a (the) mountain where Jesus had appointed them.
17. And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted.
18. And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given (all authority was given) unto me in heaven and in earth.
19. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations (make disciples of all the heathen), baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Song of Solomon, and of the Holy Ghost:
20. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway (all the days), even unto the end of the world (the age). Amen.
The Final Commission
It may be a little fanciful, but I would ask you to remember that this text consists of ten verses, and further to note that the ten verses are equally divided, and may therefore be said to constitute, in point of length, two equal but very different programmes. It may assist your imagination, and contribute to your enjoyment of the exposition, if you will suppose yourselves to be holding one programme in the one hand and the other programme in the other. The one is the programme of the enemies of Christ, the other is the programme of Christ himself, and upon the moral difference of those two programmes I risk the whole Christian controversy! In studying the first five verses we shall see what the enemies did: when we come to the second five verses we shall see what Jesus Christ did, and let me repeat that upon the difference of moral lone, as between those two policies or purposes, I would risk every claim and every appeal coming under, the title of Christian.
Our attention then is to be fixed upon a moral difference. Unusual circumstances have transpired, and the question to be considered and answered by us is—What different effects were produced by those unparalleled events? Circumstances develop the moral nature of men: suddenly placed in new relations, the true nature of the man asserts itself. There has been no time for trimming, for preparation, for arrangement of a calculating kind; suddenly, like thunder at midnight, the men on both sides have been awakened to a new consciousness, and the question which we have now to put is—What was the moral complexion and tone and purpose of that new condition of affairs? You have the one programme in your right hand, you have the other programme in your left hand—look on this picture and on this, and upon the moral difference of the two fear not, Christian believers, to rest and risk the whole truth concerning the kingdom of heaven upon the earth. Let us see, then, how the case stands in detail.
We have first of all, on the part of the watch and those with whom they communicated, confusion. The mind is unbalanced, events have occurred for which there was no adequate intellectual or moral preparation—so one is saying one thing, and another another, and there is collision between the statements, and confusion is the word which best describes the condition of the mind of every speaker in that unhallowed communication. What was then to be done? First of all there was bribery, the money power was brought to bear upon those who had some part to play in the transaction. For money you can buy silence, for money you can procure false testimony, for money you can make the next step in your life comparatively easy. Then there were lies. You never find a single sin. Sin does not dwell, so to speak, in solitary places and alone; sin is no hermit, sin means progeny, multitude, allies, confederates of every name and every colour. "Say ye, His disciples came by night and stole him away while we slept." Have a short and simple message to deliver, and stick to it. Put your answer into words of one syllable, which the shallowest head can remember, and having said your lesson over to yourself a few times, it will become familiar to you, and when you are asked a question, speak it, and stand by it.
But that very simple answer incriminated the very men who used it! For observe, they were to confess that they had themselves slept. Why, they had slept all the day before in order to be ready for the sleeplessness of the night on which they were appointed to watch the sealed tomb! But they did not see that they were called upon to make criminals of themselves whilst they were trying to bear false witness against others. It was necessary, to give any colour of probability to their absurd and criminal statement, that they should confess themselves to have been unfaithful to their trust. How difficult it is to be consistently bad! How all but impossible so to patch lies together that they will hold up like a piece of solid masonry, and not slip out here and there and let the roof tumble upon all that they had supposed themselves to have securely built. All stories have to be rehearsed and recast and calculated and tested here and there, and have to be approved by men of cunning and subtle mind, and then they are sent away to make the best they can of such conditions as may daily arise.
Followers and speakers and lovers of truth have no arrangements to make. They may contradict one another in verbal statement, there may be a difference as to the recollection of dates, there may be some apparent direct contradiction as to the fact, now and again, but all can be cleared up and reconciled and settled into self-consistent harmony, without arrangement, collusion, or preparation of any kind. Men are not afraid to own that they were mistaken, to recall a statement, to amend a particular, because truth is always proverbially audacious in its fearlessness. It is not mere boldness, it is sublimely religious courage which upholds truth in all the criticism and cross-examination to which it is subjected.
The men who can tell lies about themselves, can easily tell lies about others, and therefore they engage to say that the disciples came by night and stole him away. The liar takes away the character of other men easily, because he has first taken away his own. He who familiarizes himself with suicide of a moral kind falls easily into murder of a moral nature. His hand is in it, he is to the manner accustomed, if not born. Expect no justice from the liar. Do not imagine that the liar will become a truthful man on purpose to serve your interests and to promote your good fortune and happy progress. The liar will use you, the false man will tear down all that is sacred in your name, tender in your family, and holy in your household. Falsehood is bad, through and through; to it there is nothing sacred; it owns no altar, it respects no oath, it abides by no sacramental bond. It will drink to your health, and stab you under the fifth rib; it will smile upon you, and plunder not your property but your soul—your soul! Do not therefore let us give way to the ever-damaging sophism that a man may speak lies in one direction and be quite truthful in another. There are no such anomalies in God"s moral creation. He who can deliberately tell one lie, will tell a thousand if he has anything to gain by the cataract of falsehoods.
Then was there truculence. They took the money and did as they were told. They had a part to play, they were paid actors, they were professional liars, they had been feed to swear and work on the other side.
This then is the programme of the enemy. I find nothing noble in it, I find nothing massively sensible about it, I never saw a pack of men so little, mean-minded, sour-hearted, wicked, vile, bad—and there is no genius in their craft. Never did men go out into the world with so palpably absurd an account of a surprising event. Read the words again, and tell me if we ourselves, were we evilly disposed, could not have struck out something more ingeniously happy than this—"Say ye, His disciples came by night and stole him away while we slept." How could the men look at themselves and look at one another, after perpetrating a piece of contemptible folly like that? How could they ever shake hands one with the other in anything approaching trustful fellowship? How ever could they be sent out on any errand again so long as their life lasted, when they were capable of submitting to so contemptible a humiliation as to be told to say that the disciples outwitted them? Taking their own account of it, the disciples were sharper than they were. Taking the case exactly as they put it, they made fools of themselves as well as criminals. They had a charge, they were armed, the stone rolled to the door of the sepulchre was a sealed stone, and yet they said, for money"s sake, that disciples without arms and without strategical power and without resources, came and played a successful trick upon them whilst they were asleep!
The enemy has never got beyond this programme. The enemies of Christianity today are working according to this time-bill. They start from this point, take this journey, and arrive at this destination. The genius of anti-Christian argument has never published another programme than the one which is now before us. The words may have been altered, a little Revelation -arrangement of sentences may have taken place, some difference may have been made in the punctuation, but in substance, in moral compass, in intellectual dignity, the programme of eighteen hundred years ago is the programme of anti-Christians this day.
Let us now look at the programme in the other hand, which is the programme of Jesus Christ and his disciples. The eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them—the familiar mountain, the grand old hill-church, the typical place! No dark corner, screened off for dark uses, but a mountain caught by the great light of heaven at every point of its rugged majesty. Not into a cavern, not into a fissure of a rock, not into the depths of some inaccessible forest, but into a MOUNTAIN. There is health already in these living lines.
And when Jesus came to them, what did he say? "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth: go ye therefore and teach." Who would not rather take this programme as his life-guide? Listen to the difference of the moral tone. On the one hand—"Say ye, His disciples came by night and stole him away while we slept." On the other, Jesus says, "Go ye therefore," that Isaiah, because I have all power in heaven and on earth, "and TEACH." In Christianity, when allowed to speak for itself, you always hear a tone of high spiritual robustness. Christianity is a lesson, a message, and has to be taught, and teachers are appointed of God who are qualified by his Spirit and grace to utter the lesson and explain alike its patent and its hidden eloquence.
And observe how this teaching is bounded. It is only bounded by "all nations." This is the beneficence of Christianity, it will not teach a few, it will not be dwarfed into a sect, it will not be bricked up within given boundaries, and held there as the prisoner of any number of partialists; its wings were meant to flap in the firmament, and its voice loud and sweet enough to be heard all over the spaces, and to cause its gospel tone to fall like a revelation upon the ear of every listening man.
Compare the breadth of the one programme with the narrowness of the other; the breezy, fresh, mountain-like air of the one programme with the head-to-head, whispering, collusive, calculated programme of the enemy. Judge the policies of men by their moral tone. Beware of men who set traps for the catching of the unsuspecting, and have faith in those teachers who have a grand moral tone, and who exhibit in every breath and act and word a life worthy of the majesty which they can but imperfectly represent.
These are the two programmes which are before the world this very day. First of all, in the camp of the enemies, there are perplexities: they do not move along straight lines; for a time the road seems broad enough and open enough, and they get along for a mile or two with considerable speed, and then suddenly there is a gate in the road to which they have no key, or a deep place which they cannot fathom, and dare not attempt to leap. There are ugly facts, there are surprising events to be accounted for, there are cross lights that daze the vision, and cannot be exactly set in their astronomical centres. So the enemies of Christ have told a crooked story, or a lame one, or a short one—and I have to ask you to fall asleep over many a mile of the road, or you never can pass that way. There are imperfect explanations: if you will forget the substantial and central thing to be explained and vindicated, then you may be content with certain superficial references, but when you come to vital questions, heart enquiries, when you need an answer to a question shooting itself out of the very centre and sanctuary of the soul, you will not get a satisfactory reply.
And many of those men who undertake to misrepresent the Christian cause, fall into this very matter of self crimination: they are content to say," We were asleep, we had not insight enough, we are but imperfectly acquainted with that subject, we have not before us the necessary information;" in some form or other they will use the explanation, "We were asleep." Christianity is never asleep, truth is never asleep, reality never sleeps, never slumbers; reality is always the same, with a simple, straightforward, graphic, yet oftentimes profound and mysterious tale to tell—but the mystery is only as the sky to the earth, a necessary part of the complete economy of things, but heightening itself beyond the hands and eyes of impertinent enquirers.
In the case of the second programme, we see the best and wisest way of treating the first. No notice was taken of the plan of the enemy, no caution was given as to the craftiness of the men who were setting up a contradictory story, That is the wisdom of Christianity, not to be answering the enemy always, but to be telling its own tale, speaking its own gospel, walking its own way, healing the hearts wounded and cursed by sin. The Christian pulpit will become what it ought to be when it pays less attention to the men who hold by the first programme, and when it goes straight forward on its great evangelistic and missionary tour, of telling the world that there is balm in Gilead, and that there is a Physician there. Men are not healed by argument, men are not saved by happy tricks in controversy. I have no message to any man who is not desiring the message before I utter it. The gospel is an answer—you must provide the question. The gospel does not come down, saying, "Let us start an argument," the gospel is God"s answer to man"s necessity. Therefore go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature—every creature will not hear it, every creature will not respond to it, but you will find out in every house and town and land and empire where those are who are waiting for the consolation of Israel, and who are asking a question to which there is no true answer but from the cross of Christ. And every man has work to do: Christianity starts men upon no little errands, Christianity has no merely short journeys for its propagandists to undertake. Every journey is a long one, though it may seem to be locally short; there is no stopping place on the line of Christian evangelists until the knowledge of the Lord spread itself over the globe as the waters overflow in infinite billows the channels of the deep.
And then behold the inspiration under which all this work has to be conducted. "Lo, I am with you all the days, even unto the consummation of the age." He does not send us out alone; he divides the burden; he shares the peril; he inspires our courage; he is a present Captain, always in the thick of the fight, and always so near that a whisper may reach him, or a glance of weariness and doubt bring from his radiant face a shining that shall be as the dawning of a new day. Do we realize a present Christ? Have we that acuteness and largeness of faith which can feel the Son of God at our very side? Do we see him in the breaking of the family bread, do we hear him in the movements of the events of the day that is passing over us, do we catch glimpses of him in many a strange providence, and are we quite sure, by the happy realizations of spiritual affection, that he is within the reach, yea, within the beating of our own hearts? If not, we have lost the original inspiration, we are repeating a lesson, not delivering a message; we are uttering a statement in letters, and not a cry from a sanctified and impassioned heart.
This is the programme of Christianity today. If the one programme has not changed, neither has the other. You will get into dangerous places if you change one line of the original programme of your Saviour and Founder, as a Christian Church. Christianity comes to few men as an argument; it may come to all men as a blessing. The light does not come as a puzzle in solar physics, it comes in cheering brilliance and warmth to do manifold good in nature and in life. Few men may be theologians, but all men may be Christians. Go with the opposition, and you will have to evade and arrange and manipulate so as to escape the difficulties of history and the pressure of immediate facts, but go with Christ, and you will teach and comfort and bless all nations. You may be weak in argument, but you may be mighty in prayer. The clever manager of words may outrun you in the race of eloquence, but when the heart is sad and the night of loneliness is without one star to break its infinite and intolerable monotony, then your comfort will be sought as men cry for water when they burn with thirst.
Christianity will find its best eloquence in its beneficence. To do good is to repel every enemy and to answer every sneer. I want us as Christians so to work, that men will be able to say, when they are tempted to abandon the church and leave Christian society, "We are poor men, illiterate men, uneloquent men; we cannot answer arguments; but the Christians of this neighbourhood have been kinder to us than any other people. We know not what you say when you utter long words and refer to historical difficulties, but the woman who sat up with our dying child was a woman who could pray. We do not understand your chronology and archology and your scientific penetrations and oppositions; you confuse us with such unfamiliar words; but in sorrow it is the Christian who calls at this house first, it is the Christian who stays longest, it is the Christian who speaks most sweetly, it is the Christian that puts into our minds the most elevating and soothing thoughts." So long as Christianity can elicit testimony like that, all opposition against it is a worthless taunt, a mockery that has no message for the heart, a lie that turns black in the face whilst it utters its base message.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Matthew 28". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany